(Bloomberg) -- Hi it’s Lisa Fleisher, your luxury correspondent in the Middle East. I decided last-minute to book a flight home to the US for the Thanksgiving holiday last week. I thought, surely, prices for a same-day flight would be insanely expensive. But no, my flight was just about the same price I would have expected to see for months. It comports with my colleague Lily Girma’s report in May, that flights in general were expected to get less expensive after a busy summer. Meanwhile, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths is predicting a surge in travel through the hub to the end of the year, culminating in the busiest-ever year for DXB.
Here’s some of what I’ve been picking up lately.
Chef to Pharrell and Dior Now Opening in Dubai at Luxury Hotel
A cook who went from Top Chef stardom in France to head of one of Paris’s most iconic restaurants will open a spot at the new Lana hotel in Dubai when the property opens in February, the hotel said.
Chef Jean Imbert will be part of a lineup of restaurants at the Lana, the first hotel in the Middle East for the luxury Dorchester Collection group. Imbert already runs Le Relais Plaza at the Dorchester’s Hôtel Plaza Athénée, after taking over the space from Alain Ducasse two years ago. The French chef, who has been called talented and also handsome by Town and Country magazine, has run restaurants with musician and designer Pharrell Williams and was tapped by Dior to run a restaurant at the label’s Paris headquarters called Monsieur Dior.
Imbert’s restaurant at the Lana will be called Riviera and serve Mediterranean food. He’s also developed High Society, a poolside day/night lounge on the hotel’s rooftop. Joining Imbert at the Lana will be Angelo Musa, the pastry chef at Plaza Athénée, and Martín Berasategui, who runs an eponymous three Michelin star restaurant in Spain. Berasategui’s first restaurant in the Middle East will be called Jara; it’s named after his granddaughter and will offer pintxos, or snacks, and Basque food.
The Lana is being built in Dubai’s Business Bay neighborhood, a long-overlooked area of the city close to the Burj Khalifa with apartment and office buildings that’s lately been attracting more buzz and investment. As the Dorchester tries to draw in diners in the city’s increasingly crowded culinary scene, it will compete with several new destinations, including the Link at One Za’abeel, where a half dozen celebrity-chef led restaurants will open in early 2024, and a group of dining spots at St. Regis Gardens on the Palm Jumeirah that include London favorite Signor Sassi and the two-Michelin-star Trèsind Studio.
The Lana was supposed to open before the end of 2023, but the debut has been pushed to February, a delay common for hotel openings. There are 225 rooms, which start at 3,400 dirhams ($926).
A London Real Estate Exec Explains the Dubai Appeal
London real estate may benefit from history and heritage, but Dubai has a busy property market and seemingly endless new developments.
That’s part of the reason why Louis Harding says he left one of the UK’s top luxury real estate firms this year for a managing director role at Betterhomes, one of the larger property brokerages in Dubai.
“It’s a bit of a cheesy cliche but there is a definite can-do attitude to most people I’m meeting,” Harding says, about the largely immigrant, expat population that’s notably adventurous and outgoing. “A mindset of, ‘I’m here and I’m here to make a success of it.’”
Harding spent more than 20 years in London real estate, most recently at Strutt & Parker, where he was head of its London residential agency. His goals at Betterhomes are to increase the firm’s luxury business—possibly spinning out a new luxury brand for the company—and put emphasis on pre-construction sales, known as off-plan.
He says the property stock in Dubai is, well, different than in London, in terms of quality.
“There are some absolutely outstanding products,” says Harding, about homes and apartment buildings, “and then there are some products that are a little bit more questionable.”
Harding says he wouldn’t have made this move 10 years ago, but deals in the UK are dwindling while more homes worth $10 million and up were sold in Dubai in the third quarter than anywhere in the world.
His prediction, perhaps offbeat: “We might start to see a change in trends where developers actually focus on large, predominantly old buildings, which they then redevelop.” In particular, Harding pointed to prime beachfront locations. “There simply isn’t much land now that’s waterside,” he says.
Sharjah to Get a $109 Million Ando-Designed Theater and Plaza
A new performing-arts center designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Tadao Ando that will have the same seating capacity as the Dubai Opera is being planned for Sharjah, the sleepy emirate north of Dubai that prides itself on being the cultural capital of the UAE.
The center, called simply Il Teatro (meaning “the theater” in Italian), and surrounding plaza will cost 400 million dirhams. It’s part of the Aljada mixed-use development in Sharjah, which aims to be home to about 70,000 people—larger than many small cities. About a third of the planned 25,000 homes are finished. A business park and a school are open, and another two schools are on the way. There’s also a nursery with thousands of trees.
Il Teatro won’t open until 2027, so developers haven’t yet focused on the kind of performances that will be staged. But officials say the theater could host opera, theater, ballet, film festivals or exhibitions, as well as a strong slate of Arabic-heritage programming. It will have 2,000 seats, the same as the Dubai Opera’s capacity in its main hall.
The theater wasn’t part of the original master plan for the community, which is being built by UAE real-estate developer Arada, but as time went by, planners thought it would be a major draw for buyers to live and work in the community.
Elie Mrad, the project’s chief architectural officer, said that Ando was initially reluctant to take on the project but was won over—not least because developers assured him nobody would second-guess his work. (Back in 2007, Ando designed plans for a Maritime Museum in Abu Dhabi that never came to fruition.) “We told him, your design is already approved,” Mrad says. Developers chose Ando over an Arab architect, Mrad says, because of his strength designing cultural institutions. Ando is also working with Arada on the Armani Beach Residences on the Palm Jumeirah.
Mrad says having Ando design the project has special meaning to him personally. As a young architecture student, he wasn’t sure he was in the right field. “Then one day I opened a book and I saw the Church of the Light,” said Mrad, referencing Ando’s 1989 design in Osaka. “I said, game is over. I fully understand what architecture means.”
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